A Day at the Beach

A Day at the Beach

3.0 4
by Helen Schulman

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The marriage of Gerhard and Suzannah Falktopf is already in trouble when tragedy strikes on the morning of September 11, 2001. As a quintessential downtown art couple—he a famous choreographer, she his muse and principal dancer and now the mother of their four-year-old son—the strains in their marriage have been kept at bay by the glamorous velocity of


The marriage of Gerhard and Suzannah Falktopf is already in trouble when tragedy strikes on the morning of September 11, 2001. As a quintessential downtown art couple—he a famous choreographer, she his muse and principal dancer and now the mother of their four-year-old son—the strains in their marriage have been kept at bay by the glamorous velocity of their lives. Though they escape harm when the planes crash into the towers, husband and wife are suddenly cast into an unpredictable psychological space that allows their buried selves, and their sharp differences, to rise to the surface. After packing up the car, and with their gorgeous young nanny in tow, they head for the safety of the Hamptons. But despite their soft landing in this cocoon of privilege, the unleashed demons will push them to their psychic limits—so much so that by the next morning they will hardly recognize each other.

Taking place over a manic twenty-four hours, A Day at the Beach is a fast-paced, razor-sharp story whose personal tragedy contains sparks of dark humor about American life pre- and post-9/11. It is a story that speaks to our memories of that day, which, for all of us in so many different ways, meant the end of a world and the birth of something new. Or so it seemed . . .

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Impressive and effortless-looking . . . A Day At the Beach is a riveting story that captures the zeitgeist pitch-perfectly."—Kurt Andersen, author of The Turn of the Century and Heyday and host of "Studio 360"

"Schulman succeeds in creating an identifiable emotional landscape out of an incomprehensible tragedy." Kirkus Reviews

"[Schulman writes with] a depth and realism that disturbingly recalls the events [of 9/11] while also transforming them into art." Library Journal Starred

"A haunting, poignant remembrance." Publishers Weekly

"Schulman bravely and skillfully illuminates the domino effect of the falling towers on people’s psyches and lives."—Bliss Broyard Elle

"Finely wrought, deeply felt and mercifully funny."—Sarah Towers The New York Times Book Review

"Entrancing . . . [Schulman] exhibits an artist's eye for detail."—Melissa Rose Bernardo Entertainment Weekly

"Tackles its own concerns . . . with skill and intelligence. It's a novel of ideas, in the very best sense."—Carolyn See The Washington Post

"Makes me feel physically ill with jealousy that I did not write it, but physically ill in a good way."—Anne Lamott Time Magazine

"[Helen Schulman's] writing is distractingly, almost brazenly beautiful." The New Yorker

"Intense, disconcerting . . . a standout in the increasingly crowded field of 9/11 novels."—Ruth Franklin, Slate

Carolyn See
A Day at the Beach tackles its own concerns -- the conspiracy between the oppressor and the oppressed, as well as the actual efficacy of art -- with skill and intelligence. It's a novel of ideas, in the very best sense.
— The Washington Post
Sarah Towers
Nearly 3,000 people died on Sept. 11. Schulman�s triumph here is that she breaks our hearts with three who lived.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Schulman (P.S.; The Revisionist) doesn't disappoint with this narrative spanning 24 terrible hours in the life of the Falktopf family on a certain September day. Husband and wife Gerhard and Suzannah, somewhat mismatched, struggle to come to terms with each other, the turns their lives have begun to take and their artsy downtown Manhattan existence. Suzannah is a 36-year-old former dancer turned stay-at-home mother of autistic son Nikolai, while choreographer Gerhard is autodidactic, worldly, anal retentive and unaffectionate, and has just been notified by his dance company's board that he is to be replaced by someone "committed to the spirit of the early Gerhard Falktopf" and that the company is trying to usurp his works, including his crowning achievement, yet-to-be-premiered A Day at the Beach. The Falktopfs watch (separately: Suzannah from their apartment, Gerhard from a nearby bank) in horror as the towers burn and collapse before fleeing to East Hampton. There, Gerhard and Suzannah navigate their troubled marriage and a few moral predicaments brought on by chance meetings with long-lost friends. Schulman's novel succeeds as a haunting, poignant remembrance. (June)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

The events of 9/11 are at the center of this engrossing novel, which takes place in the course of 24 hours. Choreographer Gerhard Falktopf and his wife, Suzannah, his former principal ballerina, begin the morning of 9/11 in their loft apartment in New York. As Suzannah makes breakfast and tends to their four-year-old son, Nickolai, Gerhard fumes on the phone to his lawyer, who happens to be breakfasting at Windows on the World, about losing his dance company. When the planes hit the towers, Gerhard responds by packing up his family and driving to the Hamptons to hole up in a friend's beach house, where the rest of the novel plays out. Schulman's (P.S.) expertise lies in not letting the tragic events overshadow the story of the Falktopfs; the narrative is as much about ballet, relationships, New York lifestyle, ethnicity, and child rearing as it is about a well-known catastrophe. Schulman juxtaposes the horror of 9/11 with the small details of everyday life, thereby giving this story a depth and realism that disturbingly recalls the events of the day while also transforming them into art. Highly recommended for all fiction collections.
—Joy Humphrey

Kirkus Reviews
On September 11, a Manhattan family escapes to the Hamptons as the Twin Towers fall. Gerhard and Suzannah Falktopf are a famously bohemian downtown couple-he a German emigre and world-renowned choreographer, she a Bronx ballerina and his muse of many years. They live in an art-filled loft with their four-year-old son Nikolai, but all is not well with the family. Gerhard's dance company (and perhaps the copyright to his choreography) has been usurped by the company's board of directors, and Suzannah is preoccupied with Nikolai (who shows signs of autism) and the judgment of the other mothers in the park. The day's early-morning hours are spent carrying out routines and dealing with petty irritations. Gerhard is arguing on the phone with his lawyer; Suzannah is caring for Nikolai; Celine, their beautiful and inept au pair, is sleeping off another night of partying. And then through their window they see the first tower on fire. To Schulman's credit, the lengthy description of their shock and incredulity as the horror unfolds is at once familiar and fresh. Gerhard insists on leaving the city immediately and heads for the bank and their car. While withdrawing money, he stumbles upon a vacationing French woman, Martine, and her infant cowering in the corner; her husband was going to the World Trade Center, and now she fears the worst. He takes her with them, and the dumbstruck group head for a borrowed house in the Hamptons. The beach is beautiful, the locals are dazed and Suzannah and Gerhard go their separate ways for this fateful day, he attending to Martine, Suzannah confronting Nikolai's disability and the future of her marriage. A largely interior novel, the almost unbroken narrativemoves from exposition to the events of the day, from the reflective to the frantic, resulting in a compelling portrait of the vain Falktopfs confronting something more important than their own self-indulgent concerns. Schulman (P.S., 2004, etc.) succeeds in creating an identifiable emotional landscape out of an incomprehensible tragedy.

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.50(d)

Read an Excerpt


She yawned.

It was 8:30 a.m. The Falktopfs were sitting in the kitchen of their apartment in a pool of cool sunshine; it streamed in sideways through the old warehouse windows. Gerhard, Suzannah's husband, was already fuming on the phone with his lawyer, and the light, for some reason — perhaps because it was softened by a scrim of industrial grime — flattered his face as he seethed into the receiver, making fifty-five-year-old Gerhard look much younger than he was. That or he wore his rage well. He seemed surprisingly handsome for someone that unhappy, Suzannah thought. He'd been on the phone just about an hour, but he'd been fuming since he'd woken at five.

"I was up at five." Gerhard's words curled out from between his teeth right into the handset. He was trying to contain his anger. She was proud of him for this, so Suzannah lightly laid her hand on the back of his neck, on her way over to the counter to pour more coffee. At the sense of her touch, Gerhard looked up from beneath his thick silver brows, pursing his lips and sending her a silent, distracted kiss.

5:00 a.m. For once, Gerhard had been up before Nikolai. Usually it was Suzannah who got up with the kid, allowing he yawned. Gerhard to sleep in. To what? A nice, crisp, productive 6:30. But this morning Gerhard had been up before daybreak, rattling around their bedroom, turning on his bedside lamp, rereading yesterday's paper, because 5:00 was too early for this angry phone call, too early even for the arrival of the morning edition of the Times. In the tumbling juncture between sleep and wakefulness,Suzannah had half-listened as he'd walked over to her desk and rummaged noisily through her stuff, looking for — what? Unpaid bills? Something juicier? Perhaps he was nervous about this day for the same reasons she was.

No. It had fast become disappointingly clear that the reason that Gerhard was up at daybreak on this fall morning was that he was once again on the hunt for some notepaper so he could resume the endless cycle of writing and crumpling his searing, accusatory letters, and sighing so loudly as he performed this fruitless task that Suzannah had been forced to open her eyes and lie quietly in bed: Gerhard's audience.

Gerhard did not want to talk, at least not to her, not then — let's face it, he'd already talked her ears off. Shingshang, he wanted to talk to. His lawyer. Suzannah understood this. Gerhard had wanted only not-to-be-awake- and-alone in the apartment. He'd required existential, nonparticipatory company. Silent support. This much was obvious. They'd been married thirteen years.

So once the precious little sleep that was allotted to her — in spare, nightly dollops, it felt, since Nikolai's birth — had been stolen, Suzannah had stared silently at the flaking pale, pale lavender ceiling, a calming, dopey hue, wondering idly if they'd ever have enough money to replaster, until the thundering hooves of Nikolai's little feet were heard at a quarter to six as he barreled down the hall from his room. It was when Nikolai dove into their bed headfirst that she felt free to exercise her voice.

"Good morning, angel potpie," she said to Nikolai.

Nikolai. Gerhard and Suzannah Falktopf, a German by birth married to a Polish Jew from the Bronx, had conspired to award their lone offspring a Russian given name, not as some bizarre historical joke — ha ha ha, Suzannah often felt inclined to add — but solely because they liked the sound of it. Ni-ko-lai. It had a lilt and lift to it, the first and third syllables were practically winged; it was the secret, "true" name of a butterfly, Suzannah had often thought privately, all those charmed months when she was pregnant and dreaming about the baby within, already head-over-heels in love with him.

He proceeded to rest in child's pose — head down, butt up — on their bed. Suzannah patted his rump, which, packaged in a pull-up and pajamas, was the size and consistency of a small life preserver. On the bulletin board above her desk, Suzannah had tacked up a cartoon she'd torn from The New Yorker several weeks earlier. It was a drawing of a baby in a diaper standing in front of a three-way mirror, craning his head to see his own derrière. The caption read: "Does my butt look fat?" It had resided on the fridge for a nanosecond before Gerhard tore it down. Cutesy, unframed, ripped not snipped — it offended his sensibilities. Suzannah's desk and its environs were off-limits to such aesthetic demands — thank God.

Gerhard had been up since 5:00, proclaiming at 6:45 to his wife and child with a smirk that as far as he and farmers everywhere were concerned, the business day had just officially commenced. There was a boyishness to Gerhard, even now, a Dennis the Menace quality — and the image of Gerhard as a farmer had forced Suzannah to smile and hand the phone over to him, against her better judgment. She'd had such high hopes for this day. Gerhard all riled up was not the way to start. But clearly, Suzannah had no choice in the matter.

He had only managed to reach Shingshang, his lawyer, on his cell phone around 7:30-ish. By that time, Suzannah was sure, he'd risked a major case of carpal tunnel syndrome — Gerhard abhorred speed-dial; for all his pragmatism he was, peculiarly, a technophobe — so there must have been something oddly satisfying about punching in again and again those same eleven digits or he simply wouldn't have continued doing so.

To save herself from the Chinese water torture of the sound of Gerhard's fingers on the keypad (was it racist to say "Chinese" water torture? Suzannah wondered; was it racist even just to think the phrase when talking to oneself?) Suzannah herded her family into the kitchen for breakfast, which she fixed. Celine, the gorgeous twenty-one-year-old French African au pair, all endless legs and arms gift-wrapped in satiny skin the deep purple-black of an eggplant, didn't "do" food really. She would most likely sleep in until noon, tucked away in the little back bedroom that pre-kid used to be the Falktopfs' storage closet.

Le petit déjeuner. Puffed O's and organic milk for the baby. "Luckies," as in Charms, for Gerhard. With a splash of one percent. Plus fresh raspberries airlifted in from some country where the migrant farmer who'd picked them was probably paid slave wages and had little or no sanitation, no proper place to pee — Suzannah didn't like to think about it. She had arranged their bowls, soft-boiled a couple of duck eggs for Gerhard — the yolks were more orange and more viscous than chicken eggs; he liked them that way — and set them upright in two little silver egg cups with matching demi-spoons in the hope that these tiny, exacting pleasures would provide him some modicum of comfort. Push come to shove, Gerhard favored intensity. Fassbinder, Lever House, A Love Supreme, Lichtenstein, sea salt.

The duck eggs were sold at the Union Square Farmers' Market, Quattro Farms, as were the artisanal loaves of bread that Suzannah cut into dunking strips. It was the small things that mattered, her mother always said, between a man and a woman. A little extra effort could keep a husband happy. Gerhard would decapitate the eggs with one smooth motion of his knife and then chop up the yolk and white very finely within the shell with the demi-spoon, sprinkling in enough salt to make a paste before dipping in the long, thin fingers of bread. Suzannah made Gerhard his espresso doppio long, as was his preference, from the Capresso C3000 she'd maxed out her Amex on for his last birthday. Suzannah preferred an IV of caffeine, herself. All morning. French press. At home, she had her coffee black, no sugar. Out in the world, she liked her leche frothy.

Gerhard had reached his lawyer right after the first egg slid down. The second sat fat and white and shiny, its shell intact, smug in its elegant cup. Suzannah assumed it was now cool to the touch.

"Say, Shingshang, are you sleeping on the job?"

Gerhard's tone as he spoke into the phone was jokey, either mocking or self-mocking — which? At this point, who had the energy to parse it out? The day hadn't even begun yet. Even as week after week she was growing almost used to Gerhard's constant seething, Suzannah found it increasingly too painful to bear. She turned her attention to Nikolai, who was playing trains and humming that high buzzing hum of his in the corner by the range and the fridge, lost in his own private Shining Time. She took a sip of her coffee in the pretty ceramic cup from the service Gerhard had brought back after the company's last tour — was it Portugal? She and Nikolai had stayed home. The colors of the flowers were so vibrant, reds and greens, and there was a tangle of blue vines winding around the cup's stubby but surprisingly graceful form — it squatted on its own little puddle of a saucer as if it were sitting in grande plié. Upon examination now, the stenciling on the enamel appeared as a veined, living entity, the flowers' black pupils nearly dilating, making her wince. The cup was an uncharacteristically folk-arty gift from Gerhard, who preferred sleek, modern lines, and so it had aroused some nonspecific suspicions in Suzannah at the time (six months ago it must have been) because there was something warm and fuzzy about it; as presents go it was affectionate.

Passionate, Gerhard was; affectionate, not.

Now placing the cup down carefully on the countertop so as not to crack it, Suzannah wondered idly if Gerhard had somehow sensed the trouble to come and was preparing her for it by giving her this gift; the act itself was both needy and demonstrative. Neither adjective, to Suzannah's knowledge, had ever been used to describe her husband before. Each piece of pottery had come swathed in tissue paper, like a lily on a lily pad, sitting on its own petaled plate, and Gerhard had petted her arm as she'd unwrapped them. Hmmm.

None of that mattered now, the trouble had come and neither husband nor wife had been prepared for it; Gerhard had lost the company, his dance company, and then what? This defeat, this robbery, was rapidly becoming part of the fabric of their lives, a stain, a stain on the immaculate, allergic-to-failure, incredibly resilient, and crafty Gerhard. But they'd go on, wouldn't they? He'd figure it out; he'd always figured things out for them before. Up until now, Gerhard had managed it all — the company, her career, their home — he'd managed it all for both of them. They'd survive; she was sure of it. It had already been five and a half weeks . . .

Perhaps human beings can get used to anything, Suzannah mused, once the shock of the new is over, even a grinding, painful reality can come to feel normal. Sooner or later, she hoped, Gerhard's mood would improve, he'd take positive action, and they could move on, to what, something new and yet to be invented. Why not? That's what life was. An unstoppable force if you bothered to pass the baton. Gerhard would grieve. He'd either win back the company or get a settlement, or start something new. Be a competitor? Retire? Not Gerhard.

It was much too early to tell.

Suzannah leaned back on the barstool. She looked over at her husband, still yammering away on the phone. Gerhard, a guest choreographer? A gun for hire? Thinking of the paltry commissions, now with Manhattan preschool tuition to pay for, gave her vertigo. Today was Nikolai's very first day of school. Back in March, seven preschools had turned him down. Seven sets of applications, seven application fees, seven school tours, seven parent and child interviews. (Just dragging Gerhard out of the studio in the middle of the day had felt like a full-time job!) It was Shingshang who pulled the strings. One of his clients was on the Board of Directors of St. Luke's. On June 13th, she'd gotten the phone call that had allowed Suzannah, finally, after so many months, to breathe. St. Luke's was willing to take Nikolai for the fall, provided that he start out at half a day, three mornings a week. It was even okay with them that he was still in diapers.

And now finally, today was the day: an hour-long meet-and-greet with Nikolai's preschool teachers that was scheduled for 10:00 a.m. Once Suzannah attended to herself, then dressed Nikolai, she'd have to pry Gerhard away from both the telephone receiver and his malaise so that he could shower and dress and they could make a unified and concerned, yet witty, impression. Successful downtown, arty parents who put their child first. Faded black jeans, great glasses, self-deprecating humor that somehow elevated their status, a lot of "good job, bud"s directed volubly at Nikolai. That type of stuff. On the walk over, she'd do her best to cheerfully remind Gerhard of the particulars of his role.

Suzannah had been sweating this day all summer — that is, since she'd almost immediately moved on from the relief of Nikolai's acceptance — at once both apprehensive and thrilled about the prospect of her one and only beginning a life out of her reach and sight. Could it be that in a group of his peers, with warm and loving teachers bringing out the best in him (after the hell of that grueling application process), her confidence in her kid would be restored?

From her perch at the breakfast bar, Suzannah watched Nikolai closely. He was playing Thomas the Tank Engine versus the Naughty Diesel, and humming. Lots of boys played with trains. Nothing unusual about that.

Once the nervous-making school visit was behind them, they'd get a cookie and a coffee, and if they still couldn't jolly Gerhard up, they could dump him! Nikolai and Suzannah would be free to restart their day. Alone together — no longer under scrutiny — they'd end up in the playground for sure; she'd arranged for a little lunch date with Zack F. and Zak H. and their mothers by the sprinklers, but first Suzannah and her boy would head to the local public school to cast their ballot for mayor. She still wasn't so sure . . . was it the billionaire or the asshole who deserved her vote? Suzannah was excited to take Nikolai into the little draped booth — let him decide! She was looking forward to explaining the process: "In this country, we elect our leaders," when of course this old saw was no longer entirely true, the last presidential election having proven that axiom antiquated. It was reassuring to go over the day this way in her head. She wanted so much for it to be memorable.

It was time to get going. Over the breakfast bar, she gave Gerhard the high sign that she wanted to go down the hall to bathe. Could he watch the kid?

"Per favore, Gerhardy."

Gerhard nodded his head over the receiver. He was nodding his head yes. So Suzannah slipped off the chrome stool, quietly, not wanting to disturb Nikolai, for he was still playing intently, and she was hoping to sneak away from the open-air kitchen — "the module," as she'd long ago termed it — without Nikolai noting her absence. Nikolai had this thing about having Suzannah in the room; he liked to be with her — which was perfectly normal at his age, Suzannah would explain, with a bemused and studied nonchalance, to visitors or new babysitters, when Nikolai clung to her knees, caterwauling, his little face broken, wet with tears, slimy with mucus, whenever she tried to leave the house. Nikolai's aching, naked need for her was both revelatory and a royal pain in the ass.

House arrest was to motherhood what vulnerability was to romantic love. The downside. Bring on the SAT analogies, thought Suzannah. She was thirty-six and out of the studio — she could pass those stupid tests now!

Suzannah pulled down her sleeping T-shirt — it barely covered her bikini bottoms — and began to tiptoe away from the module and through the wreckage of her apartment. Foam blocks, finger-paints, books and shoes and toy trains and cars. Who cared about the disarray (except Gerhard!), the exposed pipes, the painted but still crumbling walls — it was a perfectly fine environment for a child. Did Nikolai even really need to go to school? Couldn't she provide everything he required here, at home, with her? He was barely four. Oh, those butterflies in her stomach. She wished it were not 8:30 in the morning and she could legitimately pour herself a gin and tonic!

Suzannah was just twenty-one when Gerhard first brought her back to this apartment. There were only two other inhabitants in the building at the time, a sculptor and a hat designer — the rest was factory and storage space. Back then she'd been taken with the building's rough-edged, industrial charm. Childless, unmarried Gerhard had collected art: stuff produced by his set designers, his friends' work, things he picked up at open studios. (Art long ago sold to bail out the company. He'd even unloaded his favorite — a Robert Ryman, white, white, white!— a few years before, although they were still clinging to the lone Agnes Martin, which hung in Gerhard's office, because of how goddamned beautiful it was.) Between the cement floors and the ratty hallways and all that art, Suzannah had been intimidated. As soon as Gerhard handed her a drink, Suzan10 nah had tossed back the cocktail and immediately felt drunk, and then she'd tossed back her hair, which had hung halfway down her back in inky black ringlets — "Zoozie's pre-Raphaelite stage," Gerhard said a little acidly, whenever they looked at the old photos — and she'd sputtered out: "This isn't a room, it's a module."

Even now, the memory made her cringe. The comment was so clumsy and adolescent — but the kitchen, a walled-off island (Gerhard built it himself) did have a free-floating modular quality. Very Lost In Space.

It was Gerhard who had encouraged Suzannah to cut off her hair. She reached up her right palm now to touch it — it was piled up in a little ponytail on top of her head. His indispensable movement theory put into domestic practice. Remove the indispensable movement, music, performer, gesture from a dance he was choreographing, and he would know the true strength and weight of his piece in progress.

"If you don't cut it off," said Gerhard at the time, "eventually it will be all anybody sees. You will be reduced to a head of hair."

Suzannah had listened to him — she always listened to him — and immediately went out and got a crewcut. On Astor Place. The punks and motorcycle guys and the Wall Streeters all staring open-mouthed as Tony the barber took the clippers to her scalp, Suzannah's black mane falling to the linoleum in long ropes. It had surprised her, once she'd dared to look in the mirror, how oddly small her head was, surfacing from beneath the heavy drapery of those tresses, her eyes and ears large and twitching like a baby fawn's. It had been, honestly, a little like birth. An emergence of sorts. For years after, that was the way Suzannah wore her hair. Gerhard Falktopf had ordained it. A short little black lawn. Like a lesbian. Until Nikolai, when everything loosened up, her curls included, because they had to. But sometimes, even now, in this very moment, while actively trying to avoid her anticipation and fears about preschool, (how ridiculous, Suzannah told herself, it's preschool!) when she was anxious, she'd run her fingers through her phantom hair, expecting, well, more of it.

Gerhard Falktopf.

Suzannah turned back to look at the handsome gray-haired man who was now sputtering and fuming on the telephone in the module; the man who had nodded yes, he would watch the kid, their kid; the man who against all odds had become her husband. She'd been in love with him since forever it seemed; she was in love with him since even before she'd met him. And in the beginning, she'd thought about him not simply as Gerhard but only as the compound: Gerhard Falktopf. The Gerhard Falktopf. For years to come, Suzannah referred to him this way not just in her own mind but also in conversation, initially as a point of deference, with downcast eyes: "Yes, I'm working/ seeing/living with Gerhard Falktopf," because she could hardly believe it herself. Little Suzannah Sucher from Riverdale, the Bronx — all those red brick cookie-cutter buildings, the apartments a warren of small, rectangular rooms, coveted luxury manifested in a neighbor's white terrace too tiny for a table and chairs — dancing, dating, sharing the same toothpaste with the great Gerhard Falktopf. Later, after years of seeing Gerhard lying on the couch in his underwear, hearing his morning fart blurting like a trumpet when he entered into the bathroom to pee — intimacy breeding contempt of course, who'd a thunk it? — she used his proper and surnames in conjunction in an effort to charm.

"Gerhard Falktopf had to jerk off in this little closet at the doctors; they supplied the magazines. FYI: There are pictures of buxom twins in dirndl minis at Cornell Hospital. They saw us coming."

She'd tried so hard to be amusing about their infertility. To keep it light, in an attempt to sneak all the cost and effort by him.

"It has become painfully obvious to me," Gerhard would remark dryly, over a glass of wine at some stupid fundraiser or other, "that I am the child I am destined to raise."

Ironic then that he'd managed to impregnate just about every woman he'd ever dated, except for Suzannah, and then convinced one after the other to get an abortion. The problem with conceiving had been hers, hers alone. All those years of dieting, living on air . . . now barrenness and, more likely than not, osteoporosis down the road. Ironic again, that Suzannah had wanted children so desperately she'd practically forced him into that hospital closet at gunpoint.

"Get it up, Gerhard," she'd gibe, her hands in a stick-'em-up position, in an effort to entertain him, but the truth was she might have left him if he hadn't. Who would have been his muse then?

Now Suzannah opened the door to the linen closet to get a towel for her shower. Gerhard had stacked them by color (darker hues on the bottom, lighter on top) and by size — this was so, so Gerhard. Suzannah would have thrown them on any old shelf haphazardly — it was a wonder that the two of them managed to stay married. She rose onto her toes, causing a nice, popping stretch to percolate up her spine, and brought down two bathsheets, one for her body and one for her missing hair, and a washcloth, all the color of picholine olives (Gerhard again). With the stack of towels in her arms, Suzannah closed the door to the closet with her foot, causing one side of her panty, as always, to creep annoyingly up her butt. So she balanced the towels in one hand and with the other slipped a thumb in the elastic to free it, snapping the leg back into place.

"You're snoring, Shingshang, I can hear you." Gerhard's phone voice was now definitively mocking; she could hear him all the way down the hall. "Hee-haw, hee-haw," Gerhard snorted into the receiver.

"People like Shingshang don't sleep," Suzannah muttered. It was true; they didn't need sleep. They wheeled and dealed till all hours then went to dinner, to parties, to dinner parties. They worked at home throughout the night, sitting up in club chairs next to their marital beds, reviewing documents and channel-surfing the foreign markets while some wife's streaked hair fanned out behind her slumbering head. Had he been giving his still-sleeping IVF-induced twins, Owen and Olivia, or was it Sammy and Pammy? — Suzannah could never remember, the children had been named either something alliterative or something rhymey — a pat on the head, silently wishing them a good first day of school, when Gerhard began dialing? (Patti Shingshang and Suzannah had at one point shared the same infertility specialist. They'd stumbled upon this salient and embarrassing fact at a Christmas gala, recognizing one another, even without the tears, from the Park Avenue waiting room.)

Was Shingshang already in the Lexus, negotiating downtown Greenwich, swigging his extra-oxygenated water, turning on the phone, opening up for business, by the time Gerhard's forefinger had reddened and calloused from hitting the touchtone dial pad? Of course he was. He had been putting off dealing with Gerhard, and clients like him, for as long as possible. Gerhard, with his German accent intensifying inside his fury, Gerhard with his little italicized "I" — "I have been up since five" — as if he were the only person in pain here. Gerhard presenting his insomnia as irrefutable evidence of the damage that was done him, compensational damage as it were.

Although there must be some money in this, Suzannah thought.
There has got to be money in this.

Suzannah stepped down the hall to the open door of the bathroom.

Gerhard's nod had said yes when Suzannah had asked him to watch the kid. Mostly he left the boy up to her, but here in the midst of his ranting, Gerhard was willing to allow Suzannah a stolen private moment, a shower, where she could be alone, the water pounding down her back, her neck, her hands rising up toward the hot spray in the prayer pose, reaching for the showerhead, the escalating temperature traveling into her body through the tributaries of her fingers — she could almost taste the heat, the privacy. Ordinarily, Nikolai cleaved to her. He even put his face on her lap when she was on the toilet to pee. It was a rare waking second without Nikolai there to fill it.

Gerhard, her husband, was willing to grant her the extravagance of solitude. For this, for a moment, he had her undying love.

But halfway into the bathroom, Suzannah found herself turning on her heels and rushing back toward the module, she felt the need to clarify the gesture, the way she might return from halfway down the block to her apartment just to make sure that she'd really turned off the stove; had Gerhard meant yes? Who could tell, Gerhard was seething so. He was nodding over the receiver in that rhythmical way, as if in prayer, as if he were davening; it was almost comical. Gerhard davening. He could have been nodding yes, or davening, or rocking to the rhythm of his own anger. Perhaps too much time had elapsed since she'd first asked him; perhaps Gerhard had forgotten her request? Nikolai could not be left unattended. Who knew what he'd do? Stick a fork in a light socket, swallow something hallucinatory; he'd committed both of these suicidal acts before, using Suzannah's mother's silver and the hash brownies Gerhard had baked as a gift for a rival choreographer. That had come up with Ipecac. Her little boy, daring her. Suzannah craved clarity in matters relating to Nikolai.

Nikolai must have sensed his opening when Suzannah peeked back into the module, for suddenly he was screeching, that high, horrific screech — "like an air-raid siren," Gerhard said whenever Nikolai let forth, Gerhard's fingers rising to his ears. It was unbearable. Nikolai was screeching and holding out his arms to her, and a quick glance at Gerhard verified that the sound was enough to push him over the edge — her husband's face was crimson and his head looked like it was about to shoot off his neck. So Suzannah gestured to the boy, "Come, come, cookie-puss, come, come, darling," and he ran screeching to her, his handsome little face a red, wrinkled miniature of his father's.

She squatted low and hugged Nikolai hard, her hands compressing his shoulder joints, her knees his hip bones, as some busybody mother from the playground had demonstrated on her own impossibly demented child, until Nikolai calmed down enough to grab onto the back of Suzannah's nightshirt, fistfuls of it, and follow her down the hall. He followed Suzannah so closely that his little head kept bumping into her bottom, his tears wetting the back of her panties; by the time they arrived at the bathroom Gerhard had installed himself, the cotton had soaked through and stuck to the skin of her butt.

He would not disentangle from his mother, Nikolai Samuel Falktopf, Suzannah Sucher's one and only, her sweet boy. He followed her like a little kite tail. So Suzannah had no choice but to include him in her morning ablutions once she entered the blue-tiled bathroom and reached into the shower stall, coaxing the temperature exactly as it should be, not too hot, not too cold, but baby-bear just right, once she'd adjusted the various showerheads by employing a wrench they left in the bathroom for just this purpose — they'd run out of money mid-renovation, and eventually the old handle had broken off. Because they were dancers, and the shower was deemed by Gerhard and his wily accountant to be therapeutic, they'd embarked on the project as a tax write-off. Like the 150 square feet of "office space," cordoned off the living room by a small Shoji screen, home to the Agnes Martin. Thank God, Gerhard had come to New York when he did, circa thirty-five years ago, when industrial footage was still cheap, when he bartered master classes for contracting work, when some male dancers still earned their keep by carpentry instead of modeling, or worse.

By the time Suzannah moved in, three other women had already moved in and out, and the whole apartment had been converted into livable space. In this real estate market you could probably term it a loft. They had a shower where the jets shot water from all sides, massaging the muscles, allowing a dancer to pretend that the physical pain that was part and parcel to the profession and omnipresent in every other moment of waking life had actually ceased, and that he or she were cured, or better yet, young again.

The landlord was dying to get them out. If he ever succeeded, Suzannah was unsure what would become of them. In debt as they were, there was no hope of obtaining a mortgage. They'd gotten this far on smoke and mirrors, the generosity of their patrons, talent, energy, Gerhard's charisma, the wingspan of her youthful à la seconde. What would middle age and the loss of the company do to that equation?

Suzannah stripped Nikolai of his pajamas — Nikolai, who was calm now and blinking prettily, his eyes as clear and empty as if the storm that just passed had washed the morning sky — and undid the diaper. From habit she admired the sculptural beauty of his thighs, so cut, like an Angel Corella or Baryshnikov in his prime, his small, high rump, his graceful little penis; he could have been carved from marble. She beheld his physical beauty the way someone with a beachside home might look daily upon the ocean: a constant marveling at its powers, but a marveling that became part of one's routine. Breakfast, a slow walk down the drive to collect the morning papers, awe.

Once Nikolai was properly disrobed and she herself had shed her T-shirt, peeled off and stepped out of her panties, Suzannah entered the shower. Then she brought the kid in with her, stepping into the jet stream first. Her theory: if anyone were to be scalded, by all rights it should be the mother. Just in case the temperature of the water rose of its own volition. This was suddenly the nexus of Suzannah's fears. She was afraid of water growing inexplicably hot because it wanted to. But it didn't. Mother and son were safely ensconced behind the Plexiglas shower door, the temperature uniform and just fine, the water cascading out and down, surrounding them.

Copyright © 2007 by Helen Schulman. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.

Meet the Author

HELEN SCHULMAN is the author of the novels P.S., The Revisionist, and Out of Time, and the short story collection Not a Free Show. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Vanity Fair, Time, Vogue, GQ, The Paris Review, and the New York Times Book Review. She lives in New York City.

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A Day at the Beach 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought the book started out promising, but by the middle,it just dragged on and on for me. I found the characters rather blah, even introducing the gal and baby didn't help this one. Glad I got this one from the library. By the end, I didn't really care about their lives anymore and I thought the ending was stupid.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a fast, crackling (no pun intended) read about the effects of 9/11/01 on one Manhattan family on the day of the tragedy. I think that the author captures the essence, the horror and the uncertainty of that day perfectly, and her main characters are very well drawn. The problem is that Schulman tries to pack too many messages, ancillary characters and plot contrivances into one 24-hour period, but these flaws are not necessarily fatal to one's enjoyment of the novel.